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Sunday 22 October 2017

Leaking Lilies must avoid Marshy grave

29 June 2014: Dalton McDonagh, Meath, has his shot blocked by Kildare players, left to right, Cathal McNally, Emmet Bolton, Mark Donnellan, Sean Hurley, and Hugh McGrillen. Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final, Kildare v Meath, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE
29 June 2014: Dalton McDonagh, Meath, has his shot blocked by Kildare players, left to right, Cathal McNally, Emmet Bolton, Mark Donnellan, Sean Hurley, and Hugh McGrillen. Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final, Kildare v Meath, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE

WE'RE going over now to the 'Morning Ireland' studios for some breaking news.

The king of the qualifiers, the baron of the back door, football's undisputed flat track bullies will take on ...  Down away.  Ouch!

This was the Monday morning left hook that almost floored a Kildare squad still punch-drunk from the provincial beating dished out by Meath the previous day.

It wasn't so much Down that hurt; it was the grim vista of Down away, in the unforgiving Marshes.

From 2008 onwards, Kieran McGeeney's Kildare enjoyed an incredible 16-match unbeaten qualifier run (15 wins and a solitary draw) until last July, when another successful scenic route launch against Louth was quickly followed by Newbridge defeat to Tyrone.

But here's the thing. Each year, a certain good fortune facilitated their back door redemption.

In 2008 they were drawn at home to Cavan, the first of three victories over lower-ranked counties (Limerick and Fermanagh included) that took them to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

WORSE

In '09, having lost a Leinster final thriller against the Dubs, they had to overcome Wicklow at neutral Portlaoise to reach the last-eight. It could have been a lot worse: instead of Wicklow, they could have drawn Kerry.

In 2010, it all started with a home draw (finishing in deadlock) before wins over Antrim at the second attempt, Leitrim at home, Derry away and Monaghan in Croke Park ensured another quarter-final appearance ... and this time a triumphant one, against Meath.

In 2011, an opening qualifier away to Laois could have been tricky - if their neighbouring hosts weren't so dishevelled. Meath away and Derry in Croker brought them back to the last-eight.

In 2012, it started with another away draw but once you stripped away the inevitable circus over Seánie Johnston's return to Breffni Park, you were left (at the time) with a very uncompetitive Cavan. An escape-to-victory over Limerick, followed by a more routine win over Sligo, took Kildare to their fifth consecutive quarter-final, whereupon Cork ran them ragged, 2-19 to 0-12.

Double-check the above fixtures. The only one that sounds any way daunting is Derry away in 2010 (less so now, given recent Celtic Park results). And crucially, Kildare had already played three qualifier matches before making the trip north. In other words, they were back in a winning groove.

Not so against Down, the weekend after next: a daunting trek to face a county with a high-scoring rout (4-18 to 0-9 against Leitrim) already banked.

Must Newry constitute a knockout blow for Jason Ryan's wounded troops? Not necessarily, especially for a county with Kildare's penchant for hauling themselves off the canvas in the back door ring.

But if Páirc Esler isn't to become a Lilywhite graveyard, something has got to change ... and radically.

The first and most obvious place to look? A defence gone AWOL.

CHARITABLE

Last Sunday, Kildare conceded 2-16. That, in itself, is misleading. If Meath had been in a less charitable mood, and hit the jackpot with at least three more presentable first half goal chances, they would have tallied 5-16. And remember, they 'only' scored three more points beyond the 41st minute.

This tells you something about Meath's ability to penetrate but even more about Kildare's acquiescence in allowing it to happen. True, Stephen Bray took it in turns to torment Hugh McGrillen and Mick Foley ... but it wasn't individual marking errors, per se, more the collective failure to provide a defensive screen for their beleaguered full-back line, that caused greatest alarm.

If this was a porous once-off, you'd be concerned heading for Newry. If you ignore Kildare's facile Leinster opener against Louth, however, it was merely following the spring trend. In seven league outings they conceded 10 goals and 113 points - the second worst record in Division One (after rock-bottom Westmeath) and the third worst across all four divisions (Carlow, take a bow). That averages out at over 1-17 per game.

Conclusion: unless Kildare learn quickly and modify their tactics, they'll be buried in the Marshes.

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